So bad it’s good: do all great artists need a vice?

From Caravaggio’s come-ons to Bacon’s boozing, art is steeped in sex, drugs and drink. But is it just an excuse for bad behaviour?

In the Guide’s weekly Solved! column, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all

Many great artists have at least one major vice that gets them out of the everyday and into a more intense imaginary place. For Francis Bacon it was alcohol, which he was apparently able to drink in limitless quantities. For Titian it was sex: an eyewitness account of the Renaissance painter at work says he routinely slept with the women who posed for him. And Tracey Emin’s bed is scattered with evidence of her bad habits in the 1990s: used condoms, drained bottles and joints, although she says those belonged to a boyfriend. But do all great artists need a vice?

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